Earthquake Induced Fissuring in Banks Peninsula Loessial Soils: a Geotechnical Investigation of the Ramahana Road Fissure Trace
Thesis DisciplineEngineering Geology
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
One of the less understood geotechnical responses to the cyclic loading from the MW6.2 Christchurch Earthquake, on the 22nd of February 2011, is the fissuring in the loessial soil-mantled, footslope positions of the north-facing valleys of the Port Hills. The fissures are characterized by mostly horizontal offset (≤500mm), with minor vertical displacement (≤300mm), and they extend along both sides of valleys for several hundred metres in an approximately contour-parallel orientation. The fissure traces correspond to extensional features mapped in other studies. Previous studies have suggested that the fissures are the headscarps of incipient landslides, but the surface and subsurface features are not typical of landslide movement. Whilst there are some features that correlate with landslide movement, there are many features that contradict the landslide movement hypothesis. Of critical importance to this investigation was the fact that there are no landslide flanks, there has been no basal shear surface found, there is little deformation in the so-called ‘landslide body’, and there have been no recorded zones of low shear strength in the soil deposit that are indicative of a basal shear surface. This thesis is a detailed geotechnical study on the fissures along part of Ramahana Road in the Hillsborough Valley, Christchurch. Shallow and deep investigation methods found that the predominant soil is loess-colluvium, to depths of ~20m, and this soil has variable geotechnical characteristics depending on the layer sampled. The factor that has the most influence on shear strength was found to be the moisture content. Direct shear-box testing of disturbed, recompacted loess-colluvium found that the soil had a cohesion of 35-65kPa and a friction angle of 38-43° when the soil moisture content was at 8-10%. However when the moisture content was at 19-20% the soil’s cohesion decreased to 3-5kPa and its friction angle decreased to 33-38°, this moisture content is at or slightly above the plastic limit. An electrical resistivity geophysical survey was conducted perpendicular to multiple fissure traces and through the compressional zone at 17 Ramahana Road. The electrical resistivity line found that there was an area of high resistivity at the toe of the slope, and an area of high conductivity downslope of this and at greater depths. This area correlated to the compressional zone recorded by previous studies. Moisture content testing of the soil in these locations showed that the soil in the resistive area was relatively dry (9%) compared to the surrounding soil (13%), whilst the soil in the conductive area was relatively wet (22%)compared to the surrounding soil (19%). Density tests of the soil in the compressional zone recorded that the resistive area had a higher dry density than the surrounding soil (~1790 kg/m3 compared to ~1650 kg/m3). New springs arose downslope of the compressional zone contemporaneously with the fissures, and it is interpreted that these have arisen from increased hydraulic head in the Banks Peninsula bedrock aquifer system, and earthquake induced-bedrock fracturing. A test pit was dug across an infilled fissure trace at 17 Ramahana Road to a depth of 3m. The fissure trace had an aperture of 450-470mm at the ground surface, but it gradually lost aperture with depth until 2.0-2.1m where it became a segmented fissure trace with 1-2mm aperture. A mixed-colluvium layer was intercepted by the fissure trace at 2.4m depth, and there was no observable vertical offset of this layer. The fissure trace was at an angle of 78° at the ground surface, but it also flattened with depth, which gave it a slightly curved appearance. The fissure trace was at an assumed angle of 40-50° near the base of the test pit. Rotational slide, translational slide and lateral spread landslide movement types were compared and contrasted as possibilities for landslide movement types, whilst an alternative hypothesis was offered that the fissures are tensile failures with a quasi-toppling motion involving a cohesive block of loessial soil moving outwards from the slope, with an accommodating compressional strain in the lower less cohesive soil. The mechanisms behind this movement are suggested to be the horizontal earthquake inertia forces from the Christchurch Earthquake, the static shear stress of the slope, and bedrock uplift of the Port Hills in relation to the subsidence of the Christchurch city flatlands. Extremely high PGA is considered to be a prerequisite to the fissure trace development, and these can only be induced in the Hillsborough Valley from a Port Hills Fault rupture, which has a recurrence interval of ~10,000 years. The current understanding of how the loess-colluvium soil would behave under cyclic loading is limited, and the mechanisms behind the suggested movement type are not completely understood. Further research is needed to confirm the proposed mechanism of the fissure traces. Laboratory tests such as the cyclic triaxial and cyclic shear test would be beneficial in future research to quantitatively test how the soil behaves under cyclic loading at various moisture contents and clay contents, and centrifuge experiments would be of great use to qualitatively test the suggested mode of movement in the loessial soil.